Chapter One - Good Girl, Bad Day
Giving in to something as mundane as jet lag felt like admitting defeat before she’d even begun, but as Sophie Flores stood on the long, narrow terrace of her rented apartment, looking across the rooftops of Paris spread out before her, she yawned, and smiled for the first time in weeks.
And it had been a while since she’d felt this level of peace. Three weeks ago should’ve been her wedding day, but even before then, Sophie had been too stressed out with last-minute preparations—the food, the cake, the flowers, everything—to really be enjoying herself, let alone enjoying her husband-to-be.
The smile fell from her face as she thought about Greg. They’d been madly in love, up until the moment that they somehow… weren’t. She’d been blindsided by his pleading conversation the night before their wedding: He couldn’t do this; he didn’t want this; he needed to walk away.
What about what she had needed? Sophie didn’t know anymore.
Maybe she should’ve seen it coming. Greg had told her, once, that marriage was just a piece of paper, and they didn’t need a piece of paper and a big party to prove that they loved each other. But it had been so much more than that, and in the end, so much less, because he didn’t love her—not as much as she had needed him to. Not nearly as much as she deserved.
He’d left that night, holding the ring he had given her, holding all of her hopes and dreams in his hands. He’d gotten into his car and driven away, and that had been that.
And when Sophie had stopped crying, she’d booked the trip to Paris.
Now, she was here.
After the flight, it had taken her a day and a half to get on Paris time. She’d made her way up the narrow staircase with her minimal luggage in tow, stripped, flopped into bed and slept for who knows how many hours. When she’d finally emerged from her cocoon of bedsheets, Sophie had been hungry, desperate for the bathroom, and in dire need of a shower and her toothbrush, in that order.
Once she had been set mostly to rights, Sophie wrapped herself in the white silk robe she’d bought for her honeymoon and stood on the terrace, watching the sun rise over the city of love.
City of love. Sophie scoffed. Maybe this had been a terrible idea. But in coming here she was being selfish for the first time in a long, long time. She’d always wanted to see Paris, but had never had the chance. She’d hoped, one day, to be here with Greg, but that…
No, that was never going to happen. Her and Greg—she didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with her. As much as it stung, Sophie knew that for a fact.
Greg didn’t love her. Or if he did, it hadn’t been enough to make him stay.
Sophie sighed. What she needed to do was figure out how this had all happened. She was smart; every other area of her life was going exactly how she’d planned it, so why couldn’t this one be the same? She’d always been driven, always kept her eye on the prize, always had a goal in mind, and when she’d met it, she would chart out a new one, and then the next, and then the next. She wasn’t getting any younger, and neither were her parents. They’d worked hard to get her on the right path, and now it was her turn to provide for them. That meant commitment, and sacrifice. Focus, and discipline. What was the point of waiting around, hoping and wishing that things just fell into your lap? No, you had to work for the things you wanted.
Relationships were work. Hadn’t she tried her hardest to make it work with Greg?
What had she done wrong? What did she need to know to do things differently, to make sure this never happened again?
Sophie frowned, and drew the robe tighter about her frame. What was she doing? Here she was, in the most gorgeous city in the world, a place she’d always wanted to see, with a wide-open schedule and no commitments to anyone, and she was pining over what might have been? Sophie fiddled with the wrapper of her granola bar and picked up a piece of the shattered, crumbly snack. It had survived mostly intact at the bottom of her carry-on bag, but she was definitely going to need a real breakfast. This was Paris, for crying out loud; if she didn’t obtain a croissant, she was truly doing herself a disservice. Still, she popped a bit of granola into her mouth and chewed on it, thinking.
The sun was brilliant on the horizon, casting long, lean shadows across all of the rooflines. All the chimneys, the spires, the antennas… their shadows stretched away, sharp and geometric. The wind ruffled the hem of her robe, and Sophie tugged it back into place. Maybe the robe hadn’t been the best thing to pack, but damn it, she wasn’t going to let her nice things go unappreciated, even if she was the only one here to appreciate them. Well, she amended, technically anyone walking along the street below might look up at her third-floor balcony and appreciate them, but it was so early, that wasn’t likely.
Who would look at her, when Paris was right there?
Sophie picked up another bite of granola bar and chewed it thoughtfully.
The question still lingered in her mind: what had she missed?
Sophie tried to be methodical about things, to be logical and careful. As a student, she’d applied herself to everything from AP courses to the right kind of extracurriculars, the ones that would open doors. As an employee, she was driven and focused, putting in long hours and earning promotions that had pushed her up the career ladder. And as a girlfriend, hadn’t she been just as good? Just as devoted, just as capable?
So why didn’t Greg love her? Love her enough to take this next step?
Why didn’t he want her?
What had she done wrong, to drive him away?
Sophie crumpled up the empty wrapper in her hands, squinting against the sunlight as she stared out across the city.
She wasn’t crying. It was just… If there were tears in her eyes, she could blame it on the wind, or the sunlight, or the fact that she was thirty-eight, and alone, and every single piece she’d carefully chosen for the day of her dreams was coming undone, the future she’d planned slipping through her fingers like crumbs from her crumpled wrapper. Her hopes and dreams had been as crushed as a granola bar at the bottom of a carry-on after a transatlantic flight.
No, she thought, wiping her eyes with her free hand. Enough, no more.
If Greg hadn’t wanted her, then she was better off cutting her losses now, not mourning a relationship for what it had never been. Instead, she would approach this like the puzzle it was. If she was so competent and capable in every other aspect of her life, then it must follow that there was something she was missing, some data point, some puzzle piece. She’d spent so long trying to be the kind of person he would want, and stay with, and love.
But he didn’t. And he hadn’t.
So that was that, she supposed. Focusing on data and trying to make sense only went so far, because there was grief, and there was loss. The loss of a relationship that could’ve been something wonderful.
But here, in Paris, she could be anyone, any version of herself. She could put the past behind her, start again, gather key information to keep this pain from ever taking root in her soul.
Sophie slipped back inside the apartment, turning this idea over and over in her mind, like a cut-crystal paperweight, peering through all the facets. It was a sound enough idea—why not taste-test life, just a little, here in this new place, in this new city?
Why not play pretend?
Sophie padded to the little kitchenette and filled the electric kettle from the tap. The apartment was stocked with just a few basics—teas, spices, that sort of thing—and she was glad for it. She set the kettle down on its base and clicked the lever down, waiting for it to heat. Digging through the box of tea bags, Sophie selected a chamomile tea that smelled absolutely decadent. Warm cinnamon contrasted with the scent of lush lavender, and she breathed it in with a smile. As she waited for the water to boil, she looked around the apartment, taking in the sight of it in daylight. The space was cozy and small, with the living area to the left, complete with a small, plush couch and high-backed, overstuffed chair, perfect for reading, and the ancient fireplace which had been painted, bricked up and covered by a gilt-framed painting. To the right was the bedroom, such as it was, which was separated from the main room with a white curtain that could be drawn across the alcove. The space was beautifully cared-for, chic and modern without being cold and uncomfortable; whoever had remodeled it had kept as much of the old building’s charm as possible, from the crown moldings to the curves and flourishes of the plaster medallion that circled the chain of the little chandelier, hanging high over the bed. The space was long and narrow, all angled walls and truncated shapes, like it had been chiseled out of a larger room decades ago, but there was an undeniable class about it.
And this was going to be her home for the next however-many weeks it took before Sophie was ready to go back and face the real world.
From the nightstand, her phone buzzed. It was only a few steps from the kitchen to the bedroom, and when Sophie flipped her phone over and swiped to read the message, she felt a bittersweet pang, a mingling of grief and relief, at the email there.
It was a cancellation confirmation, forwarded to her by her best friend and former Maid of Honor, Ava. She was so grateful to have a friend like Ava; while Sophie had fled the country, Ava had been more than happy to help cancel, refund, coordinate, do whatever it took to get back whatever they could from the wedding that might have been.
It hurt to see that email. Achingly familiar longing and rage congealed into a lump in her throat.
Sophie put her phone back down on the nightstand and went back to the kitchen. The water was boiling now, and she poured it over the tea bag and into the gorgeous, delicate cup. The lush fragrance of chamomile rose in the air. She tossed the granola bar wrapper in the trash, took the cup by the saucer, and went back to the open balcony door.
She could be anyone, here in Paris.
Sophie smiled. She exhaled gently on the steaming tea and imagined what that would feel like, to be the kind of chic French girl who didn’t worry about things like catering refunds or a cold-footed fiancée. Damn it, Sophie wasn’t here to mope. At least, nothing beyond the reasonable amount of reasonable self-pitying that happened when one was dumped right before one’s wedding day. That was to be expected.
No, Sophie thought as she looked out over the street: she was going to enjoy herself.
She was going to be elegant, sophisticated, and composed. Refined.
She was going to—
A gust of wind blew up the hem of her short, silk robe, and Sophie nearly doused herself in hot tea, trying to keep herself decent. Thank goodness she’d stayed by the doorway and not gone out onto the terrace, because the wind felt much more invasive this time, and there were cars going by now, every so often. When she glanced back out to see if anyone had seen what she hadn’t intended to show them, Sophie caught sight of a man standing by a motorcycle.
He wasn’t looking up at her, but Sophie had the distinct impression that she’d very nearly caught him looking…
Sophie’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t budge from her spot.
A moment later, the man standing by the motorcycle looked up at her.
Ah-ha, she thought. Caught you.
The man was tall and lean, with black hair that looked like he’d just combed it back with his fingers. He still held the motorcycle helmet in one hand, and even from here, Sophie could see the way his black jeans clung to the shape of his thighs. His expression wasn’t leering, though. He was looking up at her the way a man might admire a painting, like someone about to be turned into a deer by a goddess, bathing by a pool.
A thrill of something like power coursed through her. She was a chic French woman; she wasn’t intimidated, and honestly it wasn’t like she was out flashing people on the balcony—
But then another gust of wind came, and she very nearly did. Sophie cursed, banging her shin on the side table as she darted away from the window, all of her chic French confidence flying right out the window on the breeze, along with most of her dignity.
Well, so much for that.
She wasn’t giving the neighborhood a free show today.
Sophie wanted to be a new, different person, but maybe not THAT kind of new person...
Today, she was going on her first Parisian adventure. She was going to be chic and confident, and she was going to explore, and she wasn’t going to sit around moping and wishing and filling her teacup with regrets. Sophie sipped the tea and promised herself that she was done being the good girl she’d always been.
Paris was waiting.
And Sophie, at last, was ready to see what the city had in store for her.